When I was in junior high, approximately nine thousand years ago, I was a young, shy, scared individual who thought that she was the center of the universe. It’s not like I thought I was better than everyone—quite the opposite. I just didn’t really give a shit about most of them. Sounds terrible, right? Well, it probably was, but it was also the truth. I was too busy living my own drama that I didn’t have time to really spend too much time on anyone else. I mean, I had a few friends, but I was never popular and I participated in a few school groups but never to the point where they really became a part of my social fabric. It was just me floating around and between daily middle school bullshit and trying to survive.
But there were some people that I watched and wanted to be friends with so badly that I was practically a stalker. Beautiful girls that were cheerleaders or basketball players or track stars and boys that were so tall and handsome and dreamy it was impossible to not want to be them or with them. I would have elaborate daydreams (in the library where I would hide and eat lunch most days) that would put me in their orbit as we baked cakes together in the home economics room, or square-danced together in the oppressively hot and sweaty gymnasium or, best of all, met up at someone’s house after school, joking around and hanging out. My daydreams were almost always better than my reality, and I never could find the right way to make reality out of my daydreams. It was a hell of a place to find myself.
One room that I always found solace (aside from the library where I would hide and eat lunch most days) was the choir room. I actually find it humorous to say that now, because the choir teacher was a real piece of work that totally had his favorites and wasn’t afraid to use them. I remember a period of time that I dedicated to trying to become one of his pets, but it ended up being a complete waste of energy and I ended up standing on the risers like a good girl as others had their moments of glory with their solos and ability to pick songs for the choir to sing. But, I still had my friends and I had my music. It was all good.
Oh, we were the coolest kids in the land belting out our versions of Eye of the Tiger and Another One Bites the Dust in that colorless room. It was a hell of a good day when we got to bust a move with some oh so modern choreography. Well, as much choreography as you could get standing on a 12” wide piece of metal—let’s just say there was a lot of hand-jiving kind of “dancing” going on back then. Also a lot of snapping. I never really got the whole snapping thing down, but I didn’t mind it too much because it was better than just standing there swaying back and forth like one of the Whos down in Whooville singing around the friggin’ Christmas tree. And I still can’t really snap to this day (damn it). Wait. That was my source of solace? Clearly I was a lunatic.
No, no, no it was truly a fun place to be and I loved being able to spend 45 minutes of each day “dancing and prancing to Jazz” (don’t hate me for my movie quotes) and I truly hated it when I wasn’t able to spend time in there. Every couple of months we would put on a performance and I loved the idea of strutting my stuff in front of an audience. Well, strutting my stuff in front of an audience while standing behind another human being so that no one could REALLY see me, but strutting none the less. My favorite show (Glee) wasn’t a part of my life then (and even more depressing—most of the kids in Glee weren’t even born yet, [gag]) but I can now see how in my mind I was always Rachel Berry. Let’s me say that again—IN MY MIND I was Rachel Berry. In real life I was one of the back ground characters that magically arrived for a performance on the one day the glee club was in a competition. Have I ever told you that I dream pretty fucking big?
Anyway, one year it was decided that we were going to put together a routine that we would actually tour around to elementary schools in the area. There was going to be dialogue and singing and real (squee!) choreography. And I was going to have a solo! A real solo (okay, one tiny little line) that I was going to have to deliver without the bodily protection of one of my choir mates. I mean that literally. I had one line to sing and I would be standing while everyone else was squatting down on the floor. A star at last! We practiced for weeks until we had it down. Out of my way people—I’ve got a show to do!
The scene was set: one hundred and fifty (give or take fifty) elementary school kids excited at the prospect of not being in class, squirming around on the cold cafeteria floor and defying their teacher’s requests to “sit down and shut the hell up,” or something equivalent. As we stretched and warmed up in the hallway my ears began to get hot and a buzzing began somewhere in my brain. My legs swelled up to fifty pounds each and my tongue stuck to the bottom of my mouth. I suddenly couldn’t breathe well and I thought I was going to die. It was a truly ridiculous moment because it wasn’t my first time having a solo (I freaking killed it in the fifth grade when I did a Christmas musical called “The Runaway Snow Twins”) but I felt that I had a lot more at stake during this particular performance. Shit, I WAS in junior high after all.
We took our places in the cafeteria and the show began. All I can say is that it was really hard to concentrate on everything that was taking place during the first part of the show when all I could think about was the fact that my moment was getting closer with every passing second. I don’t know if I got all of my moves right, but I don’t remember thinking I had ruined the whole thing. My big moment roared toward me like a freight train and then…it was over. All of the fear and anguish that I had felt up until that moment dissipated like mist on a sunny day and I began to have fun. I hadn’t squeaked out my words and I hadn’t fallen on my ass! At least I don’t think so because I didn’t remember it. None of it. I remember getting right up to my line and then hearing the next person sing. But, I’m sure it was the highlight of the show because why wouldn’t it be? I was the center of the freaking universe.
The crew packed back into the bus and finished touring into the wee hours of the afternoon. I gained so much confidence by the last performance that I was sure there was a spotlight just for me at that school. The pressure was off, the show was good, and I had my moment of glory. As I gathered the items I had scattered around the choir room before our tour I felt satisfied, energized, and so fucking full of myself that I’m surprised I didn’t get a concussion from my swelled head hitting the door frame on the way out. No one had said anything particularly flattering about my performance and I hadn’t been singled out by the choir teacher in any way, but I knew that I was the shit. That was that.
My self-importance was so inflated that I felt like queen of the world for at least a week! I thought about how awesome I was when I was daydreaming in my Language Arts class and when I was daydreaming in my gym class and when I was daydreaming in the library (where I would still hide and eat lunch most days). Now, only 32 years later (ack), am I beginning to truly see what a little shit I was. And how scared I was. And how I wish I had tried harder to have friends. This story might have turned out so much less…excruciating.
Alas, it turned out that soon after that performance there was to be an afternoon ceremony to honor students that were chosen to get special awards from their teachers. You know, best History student, most awesome student to never miss a day of school in the last seven years, those kinds of things. Everyone stuffed themselves onto the bleachers of the gymnasium and talked crap while waiting for the thing to start. I picked a fantabulous spot just one bench down from the top and next to a fairly well known girl named Mary. Mary! (Non-sequitur alert: Isn’t it refreshing to hear about a Mary and not a Madrigal Pumpernickel or something similar?) I could take her or leave her and I’m sure she didn’t give two thoughts about me but there we were, squished together like yeast rolls at a Country Buffet (God, I’m hungry) waiting for the scintillating program to start. Let’s just say we didn’t make small talk.
As the ceremony started and then continued on and on and on, it began to dawn on me that my choir teacher was on the stage and was probably going to give an award for the best student in his class. So puffed up on my own self-importance I was sure that I was going to get the award. My mind started churning and created the ultimate daydream that had me having to stand up and squeeze past the five people between me and the aisle and make it down forty steps without falling on my face. People would be cheering (okay, probably barely clapping) as I worked my way down to the stage. I had never gotten an award like that before—I hoped that I wouldn’t cry or do something stupid.
My teacher walked up to the microphone and for some unknown crazy reason I leaned over to Mary (Mary!) and said, “I really hope I don’t fall down the stairs when he calls my name.” She looked at me as her head pulled back. She rolled her eyes. She fucking rolled her eyes, shook her head and looked at my choir teacher as he announced her, Mary (Mary!) as the best choir student of the year. Oh yes, I was an idiot. Talk about a slap in the face. Of course it was Mary. Of course. What in the hell had I done?! Why did I open my mouth?! Why didn’t I win the award?!
Needless to say, she and I never became friends. In fact, I don’t recall being in the same room with her ever again (and in all fairness, that was probably because I avoided her for the rest of my life). Choir was never quite as fun as it had been and I really started to hate my choir teacher. I learned a really, really big lesson in how not to assume anything and how to keep my mouth shut. I wish I could say my daydreaming had been curbed (at least a little), but that personality trait remained firmly intact. I could only be thankful that I had only humiliated myself to one person. Well, as far as I know. She could have told the story to a thousand people and I would never know. But, I’m fairly certain that wasn’t the case because I was probably one of the people in her life that SHE didn’t give a shit about. Normally that would have driven me crazy, but I could only be grateful.
I still have delusions of grandeur but I am much more careful with keeping my mouth shut. It’s okay to be queen of my castle without bringing anyone else into it (even if it does get kind of lonely) plus it’s easy to see now that my embarrassing moment was only embarrassing for a moment and it wasn’t going to do any lasting damage to my junior high career. And I’m glad I learned that lesson fairly early because it helped me get through oh so many worse things that were waiting to embarrass me in the coming years. I lived through it and I learned from it. I guess that’s all I can ask.
© DRB 2015